Every so often, I stumble upon the type of game that would never sell in an elevator pitch. The classic being Papers, Please. Hell, imagine EA or Activision green-lighting Spec Ops: The Line, Verdun or Neverending Nightmares in a purified unaltered state. Yet these bizarre ideas are magical to me. They provide unusual experiences that, good or bad, I can say I’m pleased to have experienced. So as soon as I heard about Jalopy (created by Minskworks) I knew I wanted to preview it as it is in a pre-alpha state.
Jalopy has an unusual amount in common with Papers, Please. Both have the Eastern European tinge to it, although Jalopy mentions the region by name. As you must drive a car through the 90’s version of Eastern Germany, Hungary and Yugoslavia. Although rather quickly you’ll see the journey isn’t a sightseeing tour.
Rather instead, and fascinatingly, it’s about your car. Your car based on the infamous Trabant 601, here called a Laika 601 Deluxe (after the time Russia sent a stray dog into space). Seven engine parts, four wheels and a very limited storage space is all you have to carry you to each checkpoint. Checkpoints linked by roads that wind and bend in unusual ways and sometimes demand you to go off-road with it.
Although that likely sounds easy, so easy you probably expect a timer or it to be a “walking simulator in a car.” No to both though. What you have are parts so flimsy and disintegrating you’d think it was made from caesium. You’ll be lucky to hit one checkpoint without something being close to falling apart, if they haven’t already collapsed. So you have to swap your engine parts around, repair with repair kits (which you can buy) the ones you want to preserve like an insect in amber and keep going.
Although this isn’t cheap. Along with the hotel fee needed to get to complete the checkpoint, you’ll eventually run out of the money you start with. So you have to get creative. Specifically, you’ll have to drive along keeping an eye out for cardboard and wooden boxes on the side of the road. Then it’s all about opening them up and selling them to the nearest shop. At least with the hope they haven’t picked that moment to discount it.
Even for a pre-alpha, I admit I’m finding Jalopy incredibly relaxing. While there is a degree of management, most of the time is spent just driving along the empty roads. Watching the sky slowly darken, making you pick between burning the battery by putting the lights on or driving in the dark. There’s no deep narrative here, nor any attempt to make you feel fear or tension like a lot of journey-based titles. Especially ones with scavenging mechanics. Just you, the road and your car. At least up to the moment you have to walk because it broke down again.
To get the obvious out the way, there are bugs aplenty if you buy into Jalopy now. You can carry things into the car with you. A few times it seemed I got free petrol. I also lost most of my journeys because of the anti-theft shop gate remaining closed, even after I paid for everything. There are also content amount concerns, what with three levels existing currently from what I can tell (paranoid anti-theft gates being why I can’t be certain).
Yet, you don’t necessarily get Jalopy for the challenge. Especially right now where you can easily hilariously cheat the system. You get it for the tranquillising atmosphere of just driving. Of mothering your dear companion back to health when it begins to wear down. Of trying to play luggage Tetris to fit as much scavenged loot as you can.
If you have an itch for something more on the inoffensively odder side, then drive your Jalopy across Eastern Europe. Spot where the Soviet Union tide broke and swept back as you scavenge what was left behind.
A PC Preview Code for Jalopy was provided by Excalibur Games for the purpose of this preview